Ed Skrein is such a fan of “Kill Your Friends” he’s willing to do interviews while in Barcelona the day after his birthday. The English actor, of “The Transporter: Refueled” and “Deadpool,” only has a small part in the film, based on John Niven's novel and set in London in 1997, during the waning days of Britpop. He’s a hustler and manager, trying to hawk a Spice Girls-esque foursome to a cynical, drug-addled and eventually murderous A&R shark (Nicholas Hoult). Even though Skrein, newly 33, was a young teen back then, he remembers how nuts it was, even though he wasn’t as into the period's music.
So, Blur or Oasis?
People were always asking that: "Are you Blur or Oasis?" I was always like, “I’m f—ing neither of them.” But they did some great things. One of the most amazing things I’ve ever been a part of is Damon Albarn’s African Express project, where he brought together loads of musicians from African and Europe and America. He just threw 120 of us together and said, “Create.” No one was allowed to do their songs by themselves.
Were there bands you were into?
I was into Jamiroquai, but they don’t qualify as Britpop, though they’re obviously British. Me and my peer group, we were more into the golden era of American hip-hop, to be honest. We were into Wu-Tang’s “36 Chambers” and “The Low End Theory” and “Illmatic” and Naughty by Nature. But [Britpop] was certainly something you couldn’t get away from. It was a time of New Labor and there was this optimism about Tony Blair coming into power and cuddling with Noel Gallagher and the Spice Girls.
But that frenzy was short-lived. Blair turned into a hawk, most of those bands flamed out or changed their sounds and “Cool Britannia” was, in 1997, not long for this world.
I love the way John Niven, the author, talks about it, because he talks about it as the last days of Rome. That’s a very interesting comparison in terms of this feeling of being untouchable and people not realizing things are coming to an end, and you need to get as much as you can before it all goes tits up. That’s very much what you see Stelfox [Nicholas Hoult’s character] doing in the movie.
I take it you were a big fan of the book.
I was a huge fan of the novel. Huge, huge fan. We couldn’t believe how cool it was and how irreverent it was and how sarcastic and morbid and dark and brutal it was. It had a huge impact on me. When it came out I bought eight copies just to give to my friends — my friends who don’t usually read books. I said, “You’ve got f—ing read this. This guy writes how we joke.”
You even accepted a pretty small role in the film.
I was actually supposed to play another part and the dates got mixed up. There was another movie I was doing. I said, “Look, get me into this movie, man. I’ll do anything.” I just want to be a part of things I’m proud of, things I’m passionate about. “Kill Your Friends” and “Deadpool” were both things I was already passionate about. I would have been a fan of those movies even if I wasn’t in them. So being in them is a double investment. That’s why I’m sitting on my holiday talking about this. I don’t need to do it, but I love it.
You’ve talked about how you’re often cast as scary villains, but you’re actually quite nice. Still, you seem to be drawn to dark and darkly comic things.
I certainly have a darkness, and I do quite enjoy exploring that. I think my bone structure lends itself [laughs] to darker characters. But what was so wonderful about playing Danny Rent in this movie is I could play him as a bit of an idiot. I could play a normal guy — just a happy-go-lucky hustler trying to do his best. That’s pretty much what I’m like in real life. I don’t go around being physically and emotionally overbearing. I’m not a hero, I’m not a villain. I’m just a sort of idiot, in the gray area in between, like most of us. In a lot of ways Danny Rent is closer to me than any character I’ve played before.
You were once a rapper, though you haven’t released anything almost a decade. Do you see yourself going back to that.
Nah. I’m not going back. To me, everything has to be borne out of a need for something. Back then I needed to make it for me. Not for the record label or the masses. I did it because I loved it. It was a creative inspiration that hip-hop gave me. Now I love acting.
I like this idea that we don’t have to keep doing one thing forever, especially if we grow tired of it.
I’m a sacred dude. I only do s— when it feels sacred. I’m not going to make any f—ing movies for the sake of it, I guarantee that. Anything I’ve ever done “for the sake of it” has turned out s—. I don’t like that feeling. I like finishing things with integrity and heart. If they fall flat on their face, I can say I did it for the right reasons. If I don’t enjoy the process of doing it, I’m definitely not going to do it.
Surely I’m not the first person to point out that you and Nicholas Hoult look freakishly similar, especially now that I’ve seen you two in the same film.
We need to play brothers. We need to make a movie where we play brothers. It’s funny: If you look at pictures of us five years ago we didn’t look the same at all. I was this big lump of a skinhead and he was this really fresh-faced boy. Now even I can see it. I don’t know when it’s going to happen, but we need to play brothers, man.